The Blackout Experiments is a documentary about a horror so messed up, they couldn’t have made it up. I watch horror movies because I like to see characters endure unspeakable horror, and sometimes triumph but not necessarily. I have no interest in experiencing it myself, so I would not buy what Blackout is selling, but following the customers who are obsessed with it is the sort of third person horror that fascinates me.
The focus is Russell, an older gentleman who became perhaps dependent on Blackout. The sampling also includes Abel, a younger man, a man named Bob and even a woman, but Russell dominates the narrative of the doc. Filmmakers Rich Fox and Kris Curry were given access to film some of the Blackout experiences.
Blackout certainly pushes the limits of what can be served up as entertainment to a paying customer. They never cross the line, although they make physical contact which is more than the performers in a haunted house maze are allowed to do. Blackouts involve being willingly taken to a dark room and can involve captivity, physical and psychological abuse, and even gunplay (if that wasn’t as carefully orchestrated as it appears, there is now evidence documenting it).
The participants give testimonial interviews in a black void, like an Errol Morris documentary. Subliminal words flash on the screen just long enough for us to read them. At only 80 minutes, we could have spent more time with some of the other participants to give a broader scope. Certainly a woman’s obsession with Blackout raises different questions, but maybe the footage didn’t warrant it.
The first thing that might be shocking about Blackout is that the participants are grateful for it. Even the permanent markings by tattoos are a badge of honor that they survived and endured. You do have to wonder what someone is lacking to welcome this. Most of us go through enough trials and tribulations involuntarily that we don’t need to create more. If we’re a true adrenaline junkie, we go rock climbing or skydiving. The documentary is a study of the personalities who derive validation from Blackout, and become dependent on it.
Blackout knows this and they use it against their customers. Abel compares it to David Fincher’s movie The Game and he’s right. Blackout doesn’t quite have the resources the Hollywood version had, but in its contained setting, they control their customers. Some of it is just gross like sticking your hand in a chicken, or creepy like a woman sawing a doll in the room, which I don’t even know how the customer could see so maybe it was only for the cameras.
As horror documentaries go, The Blackout Experiments conveys the subjects’ experience well. It’s mainly because the filmmakers had access to Blackout so they don’t have to rely on re-enactments. Blackout creators Josh Randall and Kristjan Thor are careful to maintain mystery as they allow the filmmakers to document them. It’s both the best commercial for and PSA against Blackout they could have hoped for.